The Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba is pleased to present selections from the exhibition “Robert Blackburn: Passages.” Most frequently mentioned as a teacher and master printer, Robert Blackburn is generally thought of in terms of the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. This characterization conflates his own artistic accomplishments with the importance of the collaborative graphics studio he founded in New York City in 1948. However, Blackburn was also central to the development of American printmaking in the 20th century.
His artwork traces distinctive passages from the Harlem Renaissance to the WPA, from the Art Students League to the New York School, to Paris and back to Universal Limited Art Edition at its humble beginnings in a Long Island living room; and through the graphic explosion of the 1960s; the proliferation of collaborative nonprofit workspaces of the early 1970s; the rise of multiculturalism and, ultimately, globalism.
He began by making black-and-white realist lithographs, which slowly gave way to Cubistic still lifes, then fluid color abstractions in lithography and woodcut. Blackburn bucked the trend of figuration and social commentary to help forge a modernist graphic statement. Not only was he a forerunner and teacher of prominent mainstream graphic artists, but also his own pioneering work engaged concepts such as window-table and unique-copy that were being explored by contemporaries such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.
In later years, Blackburn experimented in intaglio, mono-print, screen-print on fabric, paper-making and, finally, mosaic, producing work of astonishing relevance for more than 60 years. All the while, he also directed the vibrant and crucial workspace that welcomed thousands of artists from around the world and that continues in operation to this day.
“Robert Blackburn: Passages” is curated by Deborah Cullen, director of the Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, with contributions by Curlee Holton, director of the Driskell Center, University of Maryland.
Kenkeleba House, located at 214 E. Second St. in Manhattan, has a long history of mounting exceptional historical surveys of American art. Kenkeleba programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature, and in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural
Affairs in Partnership with the City Council and many generous friends.